Salary Proposal Could Result In Huge Payday For Beacon Hill

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BOSTON With House lawmakers poised to vote Wednesday on whether to approve a new pay package that could net public officials big bumps in salary, Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) told reporters Tuesday that the proposal is “not anything new.”

“This wasn’t myself just thinking during the Christmas holiday that this would be a good thing to do,” DeLeo said during a media availability held immediately House Democrats finished a closed-door caucus. “This is something I’ve been hearing about for years from constitutional officers, I’ve been hearing from House members, Senate members an awful lot of, you know, folks.”

If passed, the deal would be pretty sweet for DeLeo, boosting his annual pay (including stipends) from $97,500 to $142,500. Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) would net the same increase and annual pay, while Governor Charlie Baker would see his compensation jump from $151,800 annually to $185,000, not counting a special new $65,000 allowance for housing.

Lawmakers held a hearing on the proposal Monday. If passed, the measure would also raise salaries for those serving in leadership positions. Majority and minority party leaders who had been earning an extra $22,500 per year would see their stipends soar to $60,000, netting them overall salaries of roughly $123,000. Those helming the House and Senate Ways and Means committees would see their annual stipends increase from $25,000 to $65,000, placing their annual haul at $127,500.

Per diems for lawmakers would be scrapped in exchange for an extra annual stipend proportionate to their distance from Beacon Hill. Legislators living within a 50-mile radius would net an extra $15,000 while those living more than 50 miles away would take home and extra $20,000. Legislators currently make $62,500 per year.

Supreme Judicial Court justices would see $25,000 raises.

Asked about the mood within the caucus, DeLeo said there were “certain issues obviously that were raised, you know, people being concerned and what-not,” but stressed that he thinks “basically the mood was that this is something which is timely and deserved.”

The proposal being considered is based on the findings of a 2014 third-party report.

According to state Representative Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the total package would cost taxpayers $6.5 million over the remainder of the current fiscal year. The total cost would range from $12 million and $18 million in fiscal 2018, Dempsey told reporters.

Asked about the timing of the proposal, DeLeo said he thinks that “if we’re going to do something like this, we really have to do it at the beginning of the session.”

He added that a full debate and discussion is “long overdue.”

“I’ve often felt that and I’ve stated this before there’s never a right time to do this no matter what the budget situation is, and I fully realize that,” DeLeo noted.

Asked about the potential for “blowback,” DeLeo said that “there’s always someone out there who is going to disagree, that’s part of the job.”

The biggest blowback is expected to come from House Republicans. State representatives Jim Lyons, (R-Andover), Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton), and Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) have already submitted a joint letter to DeLeo and Rosenberg in which they voice their concerns.

“There is no evidence presented in the commission report that validates an increase in the Senate president’s salary to be 108 percent more than the average of the top eleven salaries of other state Senate presidents,” the letter stated. “There is no evidence presented in the commission report that validates an increase in the speaker’s salary to be 102 percent more than the average of the top 11 salaries of other speakers of the house.”

Diehl recalled working to block a series of salary increase proposals during the end of informal sessions in 2014, soon after the Special Advisory Commission released its pay report.

“The average Massachusetts family has not enjoyed any tax cuts and now there is a proposal out there to fatten the pockets of those who refuse to provide that relief,” Diehl stated.

Lombardo described the pay increase as “unreasonable.”

“Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous and the taxpayers deserve better than this,” Lombardo added.

O’Connell labeled the proposal as “obscene” and vowed to “stand with the hardworking taxpayers to reject this money grab to line the pockets of those in power.”

Lyons recalled President Donald Trump’s recent inauguration speech, in which Trump noted that “for too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government.”

Lyons said the Trump’s message “bears consideration.”

“Proposing a pay raise while money is being cut from essential programs is entirely inappropriate and sends the wrong message to the hard-working families and taxpayers who will be asked to pay for it,” Lyons added.

The lawmakers’ letter noted that more than $98 million was slashed from the latest round of budget projections “as state revenues came in under predictions.”

Citizens for Limited Taxation ripped the proposal in a press release Tuesday, describing it as an “arrogant pay grab.”

The anti-tax organization brought up a 1998 constitutional amendment barring lawmakers from casting votes to hike their own base salaries. The 1998 amendment allows for base pay for the rank-and-file to be adjusted once every two years and is based on fluctuations to Massachusetts median household income.

“They’ve now schemed to circumvent that prohibition and insult the voters who foolishly believed them that they’d never again vote for their pay raises,” CLT claimed in its release.

Chip Ford, the organization’s executive director, said any lawmaker who votes to support the pay raises “tells constituents of each legislator all they need to know.”

He also pointed out that the proposal was discussed without the benefit of holding a public hearing and noted that Massachusetts lawmakers already rank sixth out of 50 state legislative bodies in America in terms of pay.

“Now they’re shooting for number one and this shameless haul would put them close, if not there,” Ford added.

Baker has said he will not accept a pay raise but has not yet indicated whether he’d veto the bill if it landed on his desk.

DeLeo, just prior to fielding questions from reporters, appeared to be in a jovial mood.

“Let’s talk about the Patriots?” he joked. “What do you want to know?”